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Build Bike Strength and Speed Like a Paralympian

Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Lauren Parker gives us an insight into one of her key bike workouts.


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Train 360 is our latest training column, designed to give you a deeper look at the many different aspects that go into a professional athlete executing a key workout. A key workout is considered a session that will yield significant fitness gains and is often (but not always) positioned in a training program so that the athlete can hit it feeling relatively fresh and able to give it their all. As well as the key workout (which is listed in full below), there are many other factors to consider, including: “primer” sessions in the days leading in, activation and mobility exercises beforehand, fueling and nutrition (both before, during, and after the workout), mental preparation, and all of the gear and equipment involved. We’ve got it all outlined below from Paralympic silver medalist Lauren Parker as she gives us all of the details of her 2.5-hour strength and speed bike workout.   

If you’d also like to check out the previous features in the Train 360 series, we’ve looked at Non Stanford’s tempo run, Sarah Crowley’s Ironman Simulation Session, the long run of Kona runner-up Ben Hoffman, the FTP bike session of  three-time Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae as well as Mel McQuaid’s “Aerobic Sandwich” bike session, Collin Chartier’s aerobic strength swim set, and Haley Chura’s epic 100 x 100 pool swim

TRAIN 360: Build Bike Strength and Speed Like a Paralympian

Australian Lauren Parker is well known for her strength, speed, and power—it was all evident as she sped down the finish chute at last year’s wheelchair race at the Tokyo Paralympics, fearlessly trying to break the tape first only to be narrowly beaten on the line by American Kendall Gretsch. She has since made no secret of her desire to win gold in Paris 2024—and here we get an insight into one of her key bike workouts that helped deliver her to the start line at last year’s Games. Parker’s back story and history in the sport is particularly impressive: She took up triathlon as an able-bodied athlete aged 18 after being a successful junior swimmer and soon found success, finishing second in her age group at Kona in 2015. However, a serious accident in training in 2017 left her with a punctured lung, broken ribs, shoulder blade and pelvis, and damaged spinal cord. She spent six months in hospital and spinal rehabilitation unit. She later returned to triathlon, this time competing in the PTWC class for wheelchair athletes.

RELATED: What is Paratriathlon? Understanding Triathlon in the Paralympics

The Workout

This is a 2.5-hour total ride, broken down as follows:

Warm-up

30 min. easy including 4 x 30-sec. high power sprints to raise heart rate

Main set

4 rounds of: 10 min. @ RPE 7/10, 2 min. easy, 4 x 90 sec. @ RPE 8-9/10 with 1 min. easy between each

Ride @ RPE 6/10 for the remainder

Parker said: “This workout can be done on the trainer or road. If I do it on the road, I like to have a loop where I can do the efforts on the same part of the road like an out and back course.”

RELATED: What is RPE?

The Purpose

“The purpose of this workout is a mix of both aerobic strength for the 10-minute efforts and then by going straight into the hard 90-second power sprints, which really get the heart rate up, it mimics coming out of a U-turn as you would in a race,” Parker said. “You really have to put the power down to get a break on the other competitors. I like this workout because it’s challenging and prepares me for racing.”

The Day Before

“The day before this workout I would typically do a long aerobic run in the morning, then I would rest and get a massage in the afternoon to prepare my body for this key session,” Parker said. “I know that I’m not always going to be fresh for the session but that’s OK because in a race you might not feel at your best. After the key workout I head to the pool for a 4K threshold swim.”

Pre-Workout Mobility & Activation

Parker said she spends up to 30 minutes prior to the session doing some light stretching and core work to ensure she’s ready to go.

Gear

Parker’s go-to gear for this workout includes her carbon handcycle, Oakley ARO5 helmet, Oakley sunglasses, and Wyn Republic cycling kit.

Photo credit: Delly Carr

Fuel

“Make sure you fuel your body with the right nutrition—carbs, protein, good fats—so that you have the energy to execute the session at your full potential,” Parker said. “Before this workout I’ll have toast with peanut butter and sliced banana on top, and a coffee at about 5:30 a.m. I’ll start the session at 7 a.m. and during the session I’ll drink water and sports drink. Afterwards I either have a protein smoothie or granola with high protein Chobani yoghurt for recovery.”

Mental Focus Points

Parker has some great advice for those looking to execute this session, encouraging others to focus on staying calm and present. She said: “I focus on knowing my body and how it’s feeling throughout each effort, but I also use my bike computer to look at my heart rate, wattage, and cadence. When I am in an intense effort I make sure I stay calm because stress is just wasted energy. I learn to really enjoy the pain of the workout knowing that I am improving and bettering myself. My tip for others is to stay in your zones without being limited be your zones. As you get fitter and stronger your zones will change to become more challenging.”

RELATED: How to Establish Triathlon Training Zones

How to Expedite Recovery

Parker is prudent about recovery and within 30 minutes of finishing this session she’ll always seek out high-protein foods to help kickstart the recovery process. She said she’s also sure to get massage regularly to prevent her muscles from getting tight, to promote recovery, and help prevent injury.

Coaching Points & Tips

“Stay in the moment,” she said. “Focus on the purpose of the session and how your body is feeling. Learn to love the pain of the 90-second efforts because in a race it’s going to hurt.”

RELATED: Want to Increase Your Pain Tolerance?